There were just two punters selected during the 1995 NFL draft. Tom Hutton was not one of them.
That, however, did not faze him one iota. Because after being a walk on at the University of Tennessee, Hutton became a four-year starter for the Vols. And so being an undrafted rookie trying to make the Eagles was just another occasion when he could prove he has it takes to be on the field.
""After the draft, three or four teams called and were interested in signing me as a free agent and Philadelphia was one of those,"" said Hutton. ""And the reason I selected Philadelphia was because I would be competing against another incoming rookie (Boston College's Jeff Beckley). There were no vets in camp. I don't think that I had as much pressure on me because the expectations weren't as high as if I had been a drafted player. I didn't have very good mini-camps, but I had a good training camp and ended up beating him out.""
While Hutton may have won the training camp battle, he feels it did not sink in until well after the season got underway.
""It's funny. I didn't take it for granted that I had made the team until probably the eighth or ninth game of the season. And I don't think I really appreciated the fact that I made it until we were in the playoffs against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. I remember in pre-game warm-ups, looking back and seeing the likes of (Troy) Aikman and Emmitt Smith in addition to the players who were on our team, Randall (Cunningham) and Ricky Watters and asking myself, 'What in the world am I doing here?'"" Hutton said with a laugh.
The answer was clear. He was knocking the football's laces loose! With 85 punts, Hutton averaged what would be a career-high 43.3 yards per punt, the highest mark in Eagles history since King Hill averaged 43.7 in 1961. He was also learning the ropes from 14-year veteran kicker Gary Anderson.
""Gary was my mentor. I didn't really know anybody in Philadelphia coming from Memphis, Tennessee, and when he came into camp he sort of took me under his wing and taught me how to hold for extra points and field goals," Hutton said. "And he taught me the importance of being a marketable player. Not just as a punter, but being able to back him up on kickoffs and extra points and field goals.""
Hutton became even more marketable after he became a tackler, albeit a late tackler, and brought down Dallas punt returner Deion Sanders in the end zone on Nov. 2, 1998.
""I remember being on the 5-yard line and vaguely remember him high-stepping and for a split-second I thought to myself, 'Should I tackle him or not?'"" Hutton said of Sanders' touchdown return. ""And I said, 'What the heck, I'll go ahead and take him down.' So I did and he ended up spiking the ball right next to me.""
Through four seasons with the Eagles, Hutton averaged 42.4 yards on 349 punts, and had 77 of his kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
""I always enjoyed for some reason, it was a thrill to be backed up either in the end zone or deep in your own territory – it wasn't good for our team, but I always used that to push myself. And I also enjoyed directional punting while I was there. As far as my overall experience in Philadelphia, it was something that I'll never forget," Hutton said. "The fans there were just tremendous to play for. And the guys that I played with and the coaches I played for, I made a lot of friends and it was just a terrific experience.""
After playing for Miami in 1999 and spending the 2000 training camp with Green Bay, Hutton returned to his hometown of Memphis, where he continues to live with his wife, Garnett, and their daughters - Little Garnett, 9; and Callie, 6.
""When I decided to retire, I ended up coming to work for Boyle Investment Company, which is a family-owned business and one of the largest privately-owned real estate companies in the state,"" Hutton said. ""I lease, manage, and develop office properties primarily in Memphis, but we also have a Nashville office.
""I enjoy getting to meet new people and new prospects. I enjoy the different aspects of making a big deal. It's completely different than playing football in the NFL. It's the real world. The NFL was not the real world. It was fun while it lasted. It's just a small part of my life, I guess. I feel more secure doing this than I did in the NFL. They analyze you on a daily basis. I remember when I first came to Boyle, my boss, for the first six months I drove him crazy asking how I was performing. (Playing in the NFL) has probably opened some doors that wouldn't have ordinarily been opened, but I try not to rely on that. I try to stay focused and work hard and to continue learning.""